It’s time to get paranoid, because you are being watched. The movie you’re enjoying right now has just become self-aware and the characters are talking directly to you, the unsuspecting audience. While "Deadpool" is the latest to employ the tactic, fourth wall breaks are as old as cinema itself (one of the most famous examples of this is the gun being fired directly at the camera in 1903’s “The Great Train Robbery”), and there are many varied ways filmmakers can choose to utilize this controversial but almost always effective tool, where the suspension of disbelief is momentarily wrecked in favor of a dramatically or tonally important beat.
And The Video Shop has put together a superlong supercut of around 400 films that used it to add a dramatic beat to a scene, to provide a smart bit of commentary about the artifice of cinema, or to just make a silly joke. At first glance, the video’s 17-minute runtime might seem like overkill for a supercut video, but The Video Shop does a good job of seamlessly blending the fourth wall breaks in a fast paced way, while expertly separating the exercise into the many different ways it’s been used so far in film history.
We get a whole list of approaches that filmmakers can take in order to let the audience know that they’re indeed watching a piece of fiction, from the classic way of having a character speak directly to the audience, to scenes where characters don’t actually look at the camera, but break character via dialogue. This writer’s favorite use of fourth wall breaks — Giulietta Masina’s heartbreaking but strangely hopeful bow to the audience at the very end of Federico Fellini’s masterpiece “Nights of Cabiria” — gets a nice shout out near the middle of the video.
You can watch the video below, and remember, the characters are always watching you, whether you know it or not. Sleep tight.